Zimanga Private Game Reserve - Report
While they do offer game drives, the real uniqueness are their hides - seven(!) of them all together, two of them are overnight hides to capture sunset, night and sunrise light moments.
They offer several packages, which makes booking and planning very easy, but you need to book at least the four-night package to enjoy one stay in the overnight hide. As I was traveling only for this from current home in Beijing to Africa, I opted for the six night package, which includes two overnight hide sessions. As they target photographers (and they know, that we sometimes travel alone), they have single rooms available - so no single occupancy surcharge!
Communication with them was very friendly, they booked an airport transfer from Durban to the reserve - not cheap, but convenient. My guide for my stay, Margueriet Jones, picked me up at the gate, quick tour of the lodge, check-in and as it was already late afternoon, we did a first gamedrive. I have to say, Margueriet (or Jones as everybody just calls her), is one of the best guides I ever had - her way of explaining nature, finding the animals and organizing your daily life was very enjoyable.
Mostly, to give you a little change, it is one hide session and one game drive per day - and you should not underestimate their gamedrives. All of the guides are excellent, their know their territory and try to look for all kinds of animals. They all are taking photos by themselves, so they know, where to put the vehicle for the best shot, they plan for backlit etc. Zimanga offers the full big five experience, though I did not see the leopard as it was not trackable. All other big animals have invisible trackers - so the guides will be able to find them more easy (though finding one of the cheetahs took us two hours, as she was moving through big bushland all the time). You might also see wild dogs, lions, elephant bathing in the huge lake, hippos and rhinos - though they needed to de-horn them for security reasons. The soil in Zimanga is mostly red, so expect the rhinos and elephants to be more on the „red“ side….The guides do know the animals very well, so be prepared for some close encounters….even walking with a cheetah is possible…
The lodge is very nice, the rooms are in little houses and to be honest, offer more luxury than I expected and need, when I am in Africa - the food is really good, they offer two dinner choices every night.
The day starts early, usually with a coffee and some biscuits at the lodge and then you either will be brought to your hide of the day or will depart for your gamedrive.
Day One hide for me was the scavenger hide - I will not spoil the whole story, you can look at the photos in the portfolio - but I have seen hyaenas, jackals, marabou storcks, tawny eagles, vultures and other birds there. Either waiting at branches or fighting for food! It took some time for the light to get up - so a high ISO setting at the beginning is a must. Always be prepared for the actions - so high speed for shooting and AF tracking, though pre-focus on the branches sometimes helps. All of the hides are equipped with A/C (to prevent the glass to get foggy), chairs and tripods with gimbal heads.
View from the scavenger hide
Next day, it was already time for the Umgodi overnight hide - I was brought there early afternoon, so you have a full afternoon, night and morning session. The hide is equipped with a bathroom, a kitchen and even four beds too sleep. To not miss the animals, a sensor is located at the waterline, with a beeper in the hide. What I can tell you is, I did not go to bed the whole night - it is just to exciting - you hope for the best and you don’t want to miss it. At around 22.00 hours, we had two groups of buffalo joining for a drink - but the whole thing was over in five minutes - so no time to get up from bed if you were sleeping. I stayed in my chair for the whole night…sleeping a max. of one hour in one piece….I had good company, so it was not boring - but the except the buffalos, the night was quiet….other people have seen elephants and even the leopard there - but not me. For this one, bring your wide-angle lens as bigger animals may stop by….
View from the Umgodi overnight hide
As mentioned above, my package did include two overnight stays - one in the Umgodi and one in the new Tamboti hide. At my time of visit, this hide was new and not yet accepted by the animals - so I rather opted for more other hides….at the end, I did another session in the scavenger hide and two in the lagoon hide, which was next.
To get into the lagoon hide, you have to walk trough a small tunnel - it offers a view to the left and the right - both views can be blocked by curtains. You always need to block to other side - otherwise the reflections will be visible. Kingfishers and water-wading birds are the highlight - though people have seen fish-eagles (not me) - but I had some monkeys walking by… the hide is good for backlit and frontlight…
View from the lagoon hide
The last hide on my schedule was the Mkhombe birdbath hide - rather smaller birds, like the crested barbet visit this one - the highlight here are the possible reflections and bathing situations - for this one, a long lens is a must - 200mm will not be enough - 400mm is the minimum….
View from the Mkhombe hide
Having mentioned the necessary equipment - it was the first time, I took my new EF 200-400/4L with the build in extender - not sure, if leaving the EF500/4L at home was a good idea - but: in some hides, 500mm fixed would have been too long - so it worked out perfectly. In general, I had the 1DX MKII on the 200-400 and the 5D MKIV on the 28-300mm - only in the overnight, I used the 70-200/2.8 and the 11-24/4L. If you don’t plan night sky shooting - leave your tripod at home….In addition - take your binos, don’t forget a small torch for the overnight hide (with red lights if possible)…and pack in some slippers for the hides, as you need to leave your shoes at the entrance…